Libraries in Xela, Guatemala

By Kerry Purvis, LWB Service Trip Participant

This year’s LWB service trip participants had the chance to visit three different libraries in Quetzaltenango (or Xela), Guatemala. The majority of the trip was spent at the Miguel Angel Asturias Academy school library, and there were also short visits to the library of the Bank of Guatemala, and the Quetzaltenango Public Library run by the municipal government.

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The Miguel Angel Asturias Academy school library is very similiar to school libraries seen in Canada and the United States. It is located in the school and serves students from pre-kindergarten to high school, and their teachers as well. The collections includes fiction and nonfiction titles, mostly in Spanish with some in Kiché or English, and they are separated by reading level. Students cannot check out books yet, unless they need them overnight for an assignment, but the library is working to create a checkout system for students. This makes the library very unique because most Guatemalan libraries do not have circulating collections. The library is very cozy and includes tables and floor cushions where students can read. Each classroom visits the library once a week. Students check out books and have story time with Dorita the librarian or with their teacher if Dorita is helping a student find books. Some students also spend extra time in the library to work on their reading with Dorita. Both students and teachers enjoy the library and love visiting it every week.

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The library of the bank of Guatemala is located next to the bank in the Quetzaltenango town square. Upon arrival the librarian greeted the trip participants and shared some details about the bank. It is open the same hours as the bank and is mostly used by adults. Many of the patrons are students or business people using the library. Some patrons use materials from the collection while others use the space to study with materials they bring from outside the library. The library’s collection is closed stacks. Patrons ask for materials and the librarian locates them and brings them to the patrons. Materials do not circulate. Only the librarian can take books off the shelves. The library does include a card catalog that patrons can use to look up titles. During our visit we saw many patrons working quietly at tables and patrons asking the librarian questions.

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The public library is also located near the town square. When we arrived one of the librarians greeted us and took us on a tour of the library. She showed us the different locations of the collection. The building used to be a jail and much of the collection is kept where the jail cells existed. Each cell area includes a different section of the collection. The books are kept behind a gate and only librarians take them out of the cell. If a patron wants a book there is a list of titles they can look over, then they go to the librarian’s desk to request the book they want. Patrons then can use the books in the library only. The library serves both adults and children and also includes a children’s collection.

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